Pittsburgh receives perfect score for LGBTQ protections
Pittsburgh got a perfect score on the annual Municipality Equality Index Scorecard (MEI) on Tuesday, a report from the Human Rights Campaign that rates cities on their inclusivity of LGBTQ communities.
The report bases scores on the existence of LGBTQ protections by city government, including non-discrimination laws, services and programs, employee protections and more.
But the real-life experiences of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community is more nuanced, activists said Tuesday.
Gary Van Horn, president of the Delta Foundation, said that over the years, Pittsburgh has become steadily more progressive, but the city has room to grow. Van Horn said “different aspects of the community are understood more than others.”
“The city of Pittsburgh and its leadership have made strides as it relates to treating the LGBTQ community with respect and inclusion,” Van Horn said. “Hearts and minds continue to change.”
Ciora Thomas, founder and president of the transgender resource-provider SisTers PGH, was confused when she heard about Pittsburgh’s perfect score. She said the city does not adequately support transgender individuals of color. While city laws may protect municipal employees and tout anti-discrimination laws, they really only benefit LGBTQ members who are white, she said.
“We need to have more of our community in those seats,” Thomas said. “We need more black trans representation in the mayors office and city council.”
SisTers PGH provides housing to Pittsburgh’s black transgender community, in addition to partnering with trans-friendly employers. For Thomas, Pittsburgh appears inclusive on the surface, but the reality is not so optimistic.
“It’s a fake progressive,” she said.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto established the LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council in 2016 as a way to take a “comprehensive approach” in improving inclusivity. The advisory council, in addition to conducting research in the community, makes recommendations for internal and legislative policy regarding LGBTQ issues and releases annual progress reports.
Since the group’s inception, the city has started offering transgender-inclusive benefits and has added a police liaison to the LGBTQ community, said Tim McNulty, communications director for the mayor. McNulty said there are future plans to adopt anti-bullying measures for LGBTQ youth.
“I am proud of what we and our LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council have accomplished the past few years on behalf of our residents and workers, though I know we can still do more to protect and serve them,” Peduto said in a statement.
Pittsburgh is one of 88 cities in the country with a perfect score — the most in the report’s history. The city was also named in the report as an “MEI All-Star,” a designation for cities with high scores despite being located in states without LGBTQ-supportive laws.
A total of 506 cities were examined in 2019. Ten were in Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh received the maximum possible score of 100. It also received bonus points for city policies that provide extra protections to LGBTQ individuals. For example, Pittsburgh protects youth from conversion therapy, provides city employees with domestic partner benefits and has openly LGBTQ municipal leaders. Pittsburgh also received bonus points for services to the transgender community, the HIV/AIDS population and LGBTQ homeless people.
This was the third consecutive year Pittsburgh got a perfect score.
The report admits its measure of municipal equality may fall short.
“Even the most thoughtful survey of laws and policies cannot encapsulate the lived experience of discrimination that many LGBTQ people — even those in 100-point cities — live every day,” it states.
Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter .